CHOOSE THE BRUSH THAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU
The Complete Guide to Brush Selection and Care
A HERITAGE OF SKILL
Every artist knows that painting takes years of dedication, patience, and skill. Just like making the world’s finest brushes. For thousands of years, the basic elements of the brush have remained the same. But making a brush today worthy of that heritage requires generations of skill, an understanding of which hairs provide the greatest expressive control, an uncompromising eye in selecting the finest raw materials, and the experience that shows that – while some things can be better achieved with machines and technology – there are some that can still be done only with the human hand and eye.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BRUSH
The right brush serves as a fluid extension of the hand, wrist, and mind. The wrong brush for the job – or brush of poor quality – becomes a hindrance or an obstacle.
HEAD (OR ‘TUFT’)
Straight and symmetrical
THE BRUSH FOR WATER COLOUR
The hair that best meets these needs is taken from carefully selected kolinsky sable tails. When properly made, a kolinsky brush offers a rapier like point, perfectly balanced spring, and extraordinary capacity and flow control. Other hairs that offer varying degrees of performance include:
THE BRUSH FOR OIL COLOUR
For heavy bodied colour, the ideal bristle is from hog or boar. Properly dressed, the finest quality hog brushes offer superior firmness and flagged ends for nuanced control and blending. In addition, fine hog bristle can be naturally ‘interlocked’ during manufacturing to create a tight, well formed brush head that guarantees superior control. As colour is ‘let down’ for finer blending or glazing work, the ideal hair is softer and more supple, such as badger or a synthetic.
THE BRUSH FOR ACRYLIC COLOUR
THE CARE OF BRUSHES
Fine brushes will offer many years of service – if the following very simple points are followed: Always clean your brushes immediately after use
ADDITIONAL CARE Sable
Excerpt from Winsor & Newton's Complete Guide to Brush Selection and Care - Jerrysartarama.com
Over the years i have been asked many times which brushes i would recommend for a beginner to watercolour and recently spotted this article on the 'Artists & Illustrators' blog page. A Simple, useful article on the absolute must, the round watercolour brush!
How to Choose the Right Round Watercolour Brush
Faced with the vast array of watercolour brushes available from artists’ suppliers, even a fairly experienced painter might feel a little daunted. Diana Craig explains why round brushes are a good, all-rounder option and tests some of the best on the market.
Visiting an art shop or browsing any art supplies catalogue is a bit like looking into an Aladdin’s cave – it’s so full of goodies you don’t where to start. If you want to buy watercolour brushes, you’ll be confronted with rounds and flats, hakes and mops, filberts and fans and riggers.
In addition, you’ll be required to choose between a range of different fibres, from sable to squirrel to synthetic. You may ultimately want a comprehensive collection of brushes for a variety of different tasks, but for versatility it’s hard to beat a medium-sized No.8 or No.10 brush.
Calling these brushes ‘round’ is perhaps misleading because the heads more closely resemble a teardrop in shape, being rounded towards the base and slimming down to a point at the tip. It’s this shape that’s behind the versatility of the round brush, and a lot of work goes into getting it just right. The ‘belly’ (the bulbous part) needs to be in the lower part of the head. If it’s higher up, the brush will lack the required springiness. The belly is the brush’s reservoir – it’s where most of the wet paint is held. Applying gentle but firm pressure as you draw the brush across the paper opens out the head and releases the paint retained in the belly so that it flows onto the surface, to create bands of colour. Lightly touching the head to the paper means that less paint feeds through to the tip, allowing you to control your marks more and produce finer lines. Of course, you won’t be conscious of this process – it’s something you do instinctively.
The hair or fibre from which the head is made also determines how much paint it will hold and how well it will spring back into shape during use – and therefore how controllable the brush will be. The length of the handle is another factor to consider. Shorter handles seem to invite a tighter grip, and many artists find a length of around 15cm is the most comfortable to use and gives the greatest flexibility. Holding a longer handle close to the ferrule offers increased control and thus finer marks; holding it further down for looser wrist action and freer brushwork.
Sable is the aristocrat of brush hairs, with Kolinsky sable being the very finest. Red sable brushes are also of extremely high quality. The structure of this natural animal hair means that it holds liquid – and therefore watercolour – exceptionally well. It is also resilient, springing back into shape quickly. As always, though, you get what you pay for and sable isn’t cheap. But the good news is that, cared for properly, it can last for years.
Ox and squirrel hair
Although these are both natural fibres like sable, the difference in performance between the two groups is surprising. Manufacturers obviously strive for the highest quality but even they are limited by the nature of the material they are working with. They hold colour fairly well but the heads are somewhat floppy with little resilience, which makes them harder to control and to achieve the marks you want.
In an attempt to give their customers the best of both worlds in terms of both quality and price, manufacturers have come up with a clever solution: the sable blend, a mixture of sable and synthetic fibre.
Given that there is not a scrap of sable hair in their composition, brushes made of synthetic fibres such as nylon are an impressive lot. Shape retention and the firmness and springiness of the head were notable characteristics of all those tested. Durability is another of their qualities. If you can’t afford sable or even sable blends, synthetics are the way to go.
THE AUTHOR Diana Craig
I've been thinking a little about brushes recently...
Now that might seem like a slightly strange thing to say as a practising artist of many years standing, some years jumping and a few years of muddling, but in a way it's not...